I drop the children off at the airport and I return home – alone for the first time after twenty years in a new city. I feel like a speck in the city, invisible to all. Crossing the bridge from the airport, the car takes a turn past the slums- tiny match-box like homes; residents are busy performing their morning activities outside the house than inside – brushing teeth, combing hair, drinking tea, reading the papers. Outside means the road-side. There’s barely a road-side, most of it is dug because of road-work. A stream of water flows from the houses or from somewhere behind onto the road. It ends in the gutter where the high-rise buildings begin. Mumbai is the only place in the country where the rich and the poor may live side by side and breathe the same air. I have seen it before but have not given it much thought or attention earlier. Now, I pay attention; at one point my eyes locking with a child in ragged clothes, on the road.
I allow myself into the house and I’m greeted with silence. Nobody’s calling. No teen tantrums. No teen demands. No teen hugs. No teen kisses. No teen talk. Just the kind of silence where you hear nothing but the sparrows tweeting and the ding-dong of the grandfather clock echoes through the house.
I feel grateful for the sparrows, (with wings that could take them anywhere) that had chosen to fly into my kitchen balcony. There is no emotional connect that drew them here. They’ve come for their food; the rice I have scattered for them. I love watching them feed- ‘Sprinkle and forget. Come back and find it’s all gone, till the very last grain; no complaining and no asking for a different menu.’
Turning to the clock, I realize I think I can exercise if I want to. I can do anything I want to but I feel lethargic and instead make myself some hot coffee, whip up an omelette and decide to read the papers at ease until the maid comes in to clean the dishes and mop the house. The maid is a new hire who joined us two days ago. As far as she’s concerned I am just the employer. There’s no connect there too.
The maid’s done. I decide to go for art class, to pick up the canvas and the paints I had requested the teacher to order for me. I think I’ll sit there for 3 hours and then return. I think it will do me some good to get out rather than being locked up all day ‘home alone.’ Here, where I have been fortunate enough to make a few friends, but all my friends happen to be busy with ‘visiting family,’ I feel more than thankful for the art class. Its mid-May. The fan revolves slowly overhead in the class as 4 or 5 women heads bent silently work at their pieces. Sitting cross-legged on the floor maneuvering my canvas isn’t easy. By the end of the two hours, my stomach’s curling up in hunger. Its the absence of carbohydrates in the breakfast, part of the detoxification I planned to do while the girls’ were away. Its not working. I quickly open my bag and pop in some wine biscuits into my mouth so that my tummy shuts up. Daddy, as in my father-in-law calls to see how I’m doing.
I return home, canvas and all. I will do the remaining painting at home or I will never finish in 3 days. The painting is a gift that needs to be given on Saturday, that is 4 days from today. I would require one day to get it framed; which means I have 3 days, today being Tuesday. The class, the traffic had helped me forget temporarily that the house was empty. It was only when I let myself into the house and was welcomed by stillness, I remembered. When I had closed the door behind me, I received a beep on my phone – Of all things, the news says, ‘Alligator rings the doorbell in N. Carolina,’ and there’s a video.
And though, I live in the city and there are crocodiles in the lake; and there are several buildings, a main highway and many more lanes between the lake and my home, I go back to latch the door, put the chain and turn the ‘lock’ twice. There, now I feel so much safer. I speak to dad.
After a lunch of left-overs of yesterday (It escaped me that I would need food so I hadn’t cooked or thought of ordering), I decide to rest a little with a book, remembering all the time, ‘Smitha live your life. The whole day is all yours.’ I sit on my bed, and there’s a creaking sound, like someone’s trying to get in. I feel a chill running down my spine. I walk out to check every window and door; knowing in the intricate pathways of my brain that my building is highly secured. There is security at every entrance to the building. It’s this awareness that prevents me from ducking under the cot at the slightest sound. Everything’s bolted. Relaxed, I return to the room. My aunt calls to check if I’m ok.
On the bed, knowing that today, I can do anything I like – I can read, I can paint, I can sleep, I can stare at the ceiling; I do nothing at all. It wouldn’t be fair to say that on other days, I cannot do the things I like but there are interruptions. Today, there are no interruptions- no ‘Mamma this’ and ‘Mamma that’. No ‘Smitha this’ and ‘Smitha that.’
I lie on my bed, facing the ceiling, close my eyes and see something red and spongy. I hear a voice. I open my eyes. Its in my head. I try sleeping. Its been a long day. I’ve been awake since 4.00 a.m. But sleep seems to evade me.
I get up, walk in to the living room, turn on the T.V., lay down my paints, my canvas, my brushes. ‘Cinderella’ is on T.V; not the animated version but the one with Drew Barrymore in it. I watch it. Till the very end. And I enjoy it, like I enjoy watching any kind of romantic flick. ‘Stupid,’ you may call me but that’s o.k. That’s me. For a moment I think of the girls’ – what they’d say, how we’d laugh together.
It’s tea-time. I have never been good at making tea. My husband makes it when he’s around or I simply have coffee; milk, Nescafe’, a little sugar and it’s done. This time, however, I make tea. My older teen made it for me when her dad was away this time and made it a point to teach me.She hated that I should be dependent. I didn’t learn, happy to have her make it for me. I make it now thinking of her, of them, being on the hot dusty roads of W.Bengal amidst army barracks.
Slurping on my tea and watching ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ in this rather innovative take on Cinderella with a piece of carrot-walnut cake (the remaining piece in the box), I enjoy a quiet tea-time. The next movie is ‘Phone Booth.’ I watch it too but while painting my canvas. Its 6.00 p.m. ‘Phone Booth’ ends on an abrupt note. I don’t think I’ve understood the purpose of the movie but it was stressful while it lasted. Its followed by ‘Moulin Rouge.’ I’m not sure why I place it on silent. It must be the sound. I find it distracting during the painting.
My WordPress friend Vandana has called. She’s called earlier, but I hadn’t heard. She says, she got worried when I didn’t pick up, knowing I was alone. I am totally grateful to have met her and gotten to know her. Who would think that a WordPress friend, who one had met a few months ago, would be the only one who would really care to call?
I realize because my stomach’s growling. 2 min noodles to the rescue! I had decided to detoxify while I was alone. It’s redeeming to know that the noodles are made of oats – so it says, on the packet.
My left hand feels sore from painting. I paint with my right hand but I’ve been sitting on the floor and I think I’ve been resting on it (I’m not sure if you can imagine it- sitting cross-legged, paint-brush in right hand, leaning on my left hand on the floor and then painting). Anyways, ‘Nixon’s’ on T.V. I raise the volume. Its interesting. I’ve always loved ‘autobiographical movies related to history.’ I see a familiar pattern between him, that’s Nixon and our very own Prime Minister ‘Narendra Modi.’ I don’t know if it’s the entire power thing, the rising from the humble background, the mocking of the ‘Kennedy’s,’ the ‘doing- great- things’ but being prone to dominate and making mistakes along the way. The movie ends. Nixon’s not a bad man. He made mistakes. I feel the need to read his Biography to understand better.
11. 00 p.m.
I don’t know when I dozed off on the couch, somewhere between thinking about Narendra Modi and Nixon. I’m woken up by the sound of the key in the door. It’s only my husband returning after being away for 3 days. Not a serial killer! I am happy to have company.
So much for my first day ‘Home alone,’ not as eventful as Macaulay Culkin’s.
In case you wanted to see the status of the painting at end of day 1, here it is
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